The honor of being the person responsible for the building of the house that we know today as Abbey Road Studios goes to a woman! Martha Charman, a spinster, signed an agreement on September 24, 1822 to have a 4 story home built (that includes the basement and attic) on Abbey Road one week before her 43rd birthday.
Martha Charman was born on Sunday, October 1, 1775 to Peter and Elizabeth (nee Buckland) Charman in Westminster, London. She was the second oldest of six surviving children born around the time Great Britain was trying to tame the rebel colonists into submission in the new world. Her father, Peter Charman, and her older brother, also named Peter, were both jewelers in Aldgate and Piccadilly.
Martha never married, so all official records of her after the age of 18 refer to her as “Martha Charman, spinster”. Elizabeth, Martha’s younger sister, married Robert Todd, the most well-known and accomplished builder on the Eyre Estate and a best friend of Walpole Eyre. This would benefit Martha well when it came time to build the future Abbey Road Studios.
Martha’s early years are a blur, but what we do know is that after her father’s passing, she is listed as a ‘dealer in toys’ at 32 Aldgate, not far from where her father’s jewelry shop had been. We can’t be sure if her working came about because of father’s death in November 1812 since he left his entire estate, including several properties around Aldgate, to his wife Elizabeth. And, up until 1811, the toy store had been listed as being in the hands of George Shuter, toyman, on an insurance policy. In 1813, it’s insured under Martha Charman.
From 1815-1820, Martha Charman is listed as a resident at 20 Aldgate Street, another property owned by Shuter, on the tax records, but George died in 1815, so the property was probably now being managed by his widow Rebecca. Martha continued to rent the house when in February 1816, Martha and her two sisters inherited £3000 to be split between them from their Uncle Henry Reddington. Henry was their mother’s half-brother. In 2019 numbers, £3000 is worth £290,022.94, which is worth $359,909.77.
On September 22, 1822, an agreement was signed between William Hall, builder, and “Martha Charman of Grove Street in said parish of Saint Marylebone”. The address of Grove Street (which no longer exists) was an area of terraced houses at the southern tip of the Eyre Estate developed by Walpole Eyre in the early 1800s. Terraced houses in London are what Americans refer to as row homes.
There are no records as to when Martha Charman moved into Grove Street. Making the mystery even more interesting is that she is mentioned as letting a piece of land on Grove End Road on the north side of land that Robert Todd is purchasing from William Hall in a lease agreement dated April 3, 1823. So we know she was not only building homes, she was leasing multiple properties on the Eyre Estate.
Returning to the Abbey Road agreement:
“The said William Hall agrees to sell and the said Martha Charman agrees to purchase at the sum of four hundred and ninety five pounds the peppercorn lease of all that piece or parcel of ground situate and being on the south west side of a certain newly made road…”
The September 1822 agreement goes on to say that Mr. Hall will build a four story house about 36 feet square by Michaelmas (September 29) 1823 on the walled half acre property. The four story home will include an attic and basement which would be used as servants’ quarters, offices and outbuildings.
Though the agreement said the home would be built by 1823, there is no record of it being built until May 15, 1828. The lease drawing of the home and land show that two narrow, but long parcels of land were purchased and one building was put in the middle of the 92’ x 250’ property.
- Top floor/attic contained two bedrooms for servants.
- Second floor had seven bedrooms, the largest being 24’x16’, and a water closet/powder room.
- Half-landing between the first and second floors there was a bathroom.
- First floor included the dining room with a service lift to the basement, drawing room, library, morning room, study and water closet.
- Half-basement had two servants bedrooms, the kitchen, laundry/washroom, servants dining hall, pantry and another water closet.
There is also no record of whether or not Martha Charman ever really lived at her new home on Abbey Road. As said earlier, she owned another parcel of land a small walk down Grove End Road, and in 1833, upon the death of her mother, Elizabeth, she inherited the house that she and her mother were living in at No. 4 Grove Road. At the time it was customary for women to will land to their daughters since laws always favored husbands and fathers when it came to land ownership. Martha continued this tradition in her own will when she left one of her mother’s other homes on “the north west side of Hall Place” to her niece Mary Charman. She left her home on what was now called No. 4 Grove End Road to her nephew Harry Charman. By the time of her death, the Abbey Road house will have changed hands two more times.
In an interesting side story about Martha’s father that will make sense later on in the story of 3 Abbey Road – he appeared in a book published in 1815 titled, “Memoirs and Confessions of Captain Ashe”. In an attempt to get promoted from the rank of Ensign to Captain, Thomas Ashe would try to by the favor. Ashe’s friend, Broome, “took me to a jeweller’s in Saint Jame’s Street, Mr. Peter Charman, now residing in Piccadilly, corner of Albermarle Street…” Broome lets Mr. Charman know that he has noticed Mary Anne Clark frequenting his shop and asks if there is any particular piece of jewelry that she favors. When it is decided that it is a £300 diamond necklace, Broome instructs Charman to gift the necklace to her and charge it to Thomas Ashe. And ask Miss Clark “…if she will undertake to promote our friend Ashe from his ensigncy in the Fencibles, to a company in a regular regiment of foot…” She apparently had the ear and the heart of the Duke and he “made a merit of doing the most outrageous things at her suggestion.” Needless to say, after the whole monstrosity played out, Mary Anne Clark was one diamond necklace richer and Thomas Ashe was £300 poorer. Peter Charman didn’t fare well either because he had lost $170 in credit he had given Ashe based on his supposed promotion in the Army. This theme of buying favors will play out again at 3 Abbey Road in the early 1900s.